Between Two Eras

So I’ve been playing (and on-again, off-again designing, mostly off-again) Dungeons & Dragons for the better parts of 30 years. In fact, I just concluded a long-running campaign that I started in D&D 3.5, transitioned into D&D 4E, and ended just about a month ago now. There are many reasons why I concluded it, some good, some bad, but mostly it was just time.

And for the first time in those above-mentioned 30 years, I find myself in this strange transitional limbo place between editions. Don’t get me wrong, like all lifelong D&D players I always knew when a new edition was coming around, but this time it’s different. This time we, the gaming public, are privy to a large part of the process. I notice that all of the new releases on WotC’s schedule are reprints of older editions of D&D (more on that below) and that there hasn’t been a monthly rules update for 4E since last August. Those two facts combined with the pending who-knows-when release of 5th edition (whatever they end up calling it) lead me to believe that the 4E life cycle is complete. But it’s complete without a replacement. For all practical purposes, we are without a “current” edition of D&D.

Frankly, that’s not a huge problem for me and I suspect it’s not a huge problem for the vast majority of Dungeons & Dragons players. Although I have no data on the subject, intuitively I have to believe there are collectively more players playing OD&D, 1st edition, 2nd edition, 3rd edition, and 3.5 combined than there are playing 4E. And none of them likely give a hoot about there being no more 4E releases. But still–like an eerie and disorienting silence after a thunderclap at dusk–the feeling of nothingness is palpable to me. Knowing what I know about the gaming industry after two tours of duty in it, anything could happen in the resting period between heartbeats. It would certainly have only a minor effect on Hasbro’s bottom line if some executive somewhere just shut off the lights at WotC and stuffed D&D in a box for the next ten years.

But still, I am filled with a kind of anticipation for 5th edition (whatever they end up calling it). I don’t love everything I see in the playtest packets, but I do like most of it and often find myself nodding and emitting a satisfied mmmm-hmmm as I read the latest rules iteration. WotC has strongly hinted that there will be no 5th edition (whatever they end up calling it) this year, and given that the company is understandably inclined toward releasing new editions around GenCon then one might logically conclude that we’ll see 5th edition (whatever they end up calling it) around the summer of 2014. MAYBE 2015, but I can’t imagine any of the latte-swilling, MacBook-toting yuppies in Seattle will be able to convince the profit-driven executive in Pawtucket to give them another year.

As to WotC’s decision to fill their calendar with re-releases of products from previous editions of D&D, I can’t bring myself to agree with it. I get it. Take stuff you already own and generate a revenue stream while R&D toils in the salt mines refining 5th edition (or whatever they end up calling it). Get the previous-edition grognards to finally shell out some cash. But if the idea of 5th edition (or whatever they end up calling it) is to unite the various “editioners” under a common banner, why sell them core products from their current editions of choice? All it will do is entrench them. They shell out a hundred bucks on reprints to replace their fraying, decaying core books, then you ask them to shell out more money in a year for all new books? From an all new edition? When many of them haven’t switched editions since before most of the current R&D team members had their first kiss? I have no marketing degree so don’t take my opinion as worth anything in that arena, but I wouldn’t have made that choice.

Anyway, like I always have, I sit and watch and wait.

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